The Encinitas City Council voted Wednesday night not to accept a request to amend the city’s general plan and rezone the Pacific View Elementary School property so an arts center could be constructed.
In a 4-0 vote, councilmembers agreed they could not approve the request because Encinitas Union School District is currently suing the city over the property. Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar recused herself from the issue, as she has done in the past.
The district has attempted to sell the site, which was built in 1953, since the school was closed in June 2003 due to declining enrollment. The district filed a lawsuit against the city for twice denying rezoning requests for residential development at the 2.8-acre parcel.
Nearly two dozen speakers addressed the council in support of an application by Art Pulse requesting a zoning change to allow for an arts center and seven houses. The nonprofit arts organization offered to purchase the site for $7.5 million to build a mixed-use arts center that would include classrooms, galleries, studios, performance areas, a library, a museum, short-term live/work spaces, a coffee shop and a retail store. Current zoning allows for public and semi-public uses only.
“There is a unique opportunity for Encinitas to be on the creative pulse of an artistic, cultural and educational vein,” said Solana Beach author Diane Welch.
Carlsbad artist Ann Olsen agreed.
“I believe this is the best use of this Pacific View Elementary School site for the city of Encinitas and North County communities,” she said.
A few speakers spoke in favor of an art center but against zoning changes.
Don McPherson, who owns property on First Street, requested the city create two distinct zoning areas: residential, single-family zoning for the seven houses and mixed-use zoning for the art center.
Bill Sparks, who has lived in Encinitas for more than 25 years, said he supports an art center at the site, but not a zoning change because he thinks the site should remain intact.
“I’m here tonight because I’m deeply troubled by the prospect of a private real estate developer being allowed to rezone and end up owning a large portion of this Pacific View property with the intent of building private residences for resale,” Sparks said.
Encinitas Union School District Superintendent Timothy Baird said the district would drop its lawsuit against the city if the council proceeded with the request from Art Pulse.
“This is the art center. This is the one that we all need to get behind and support and make happen,” Baird said. “I urge the council to move with due haste to make this happen and move this project forward, and the district is fully in support of that.”
Councilmembers agreed they would hear the item again, but not until the lawsuit is resolved. If the council accepts the application for rezoning at a later date, the matter would come before the council again during a public hearing with a recommendation from the city's planning commission.
“The lawsuit should have been dropped prior to the request for the rezone,” said Mayor Jerome Stocks. “We’re not going to start going down a process with a gun to our head. That’s just not appropriate.”